Statewide hearings on gun reform planned

COLUMBIA — A group of state senators will likely hit the road later this year to gather information Democrats hope will lead to gun reform legislation.

Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, said the newly formed five-member panel will look at bills he introduced last session that aim to fix what has become known as the “Charleston loophole.”

His proposals would have extended the period for an FBI background check to be completed from three days to 28 days. The bills, which died at the end of 2016 session last month, will have to be refiled for the next session in January.

“I intend for (the bills) to be topic of conversation,” said Malloy, who serves as chairman of the gun study subcommittee. “We’re going to narrow the focus so we can concentrate on the issues that need to happen.”

Many gun reform advocates have focused on the background check waiting period after accused Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof was able to buy a pistol two months before nine parishioners were gunned down during Bible study in June 2015.

Roof should have been barred from completing the purchase because of a prior admission of possessing illegal drugs. However, an error with the FBI in conducting his background check held up the report longer than the required three-day wait for a response. The gun dealer then sold Roof the weapon.

Republican state Sen. Chip Campsen, who is also on the committee, said extending that period likely wouldn’t have kept Roof from getting a gun. He said senators should take a closer look at the process.

“In the Dylann Roof instance, there was a fumbling of the ball,” said Campsen of the Isle of Palms. “Those who are wanting an extension are placing more trust in the system. We need to look at the process that allowed the error to happen.”

Subcommittee member Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said he hoped the panel — also including Republican Sens. Greg Hembree of North Myrtle Beach and Chauncey Gregory of Lancaster — would be able to craft a bipartisan bill that could draw much needed support from the Republican majority.

“I think we can do it,” Kimpson said. “I really do believe that the Senate will do our part. The House, I don’t know.”

Kimpson said if the bill is co-sponsored by the all of the subcommittee members and sent to the full Senate Judiciary Committee, it speeds up the process and increases the likelihood of reform happening next year.

Malloy said it is logical to hold at least one hearing in Charleston because of the high-profile gun incidents seen there.

Campsen said he’s looking forward to hearing what people have to say and interested to see where the discussion leads.

“Sometimes the committees are doing nothing but gathering information and hearing testimony,” he said. “It’s better to try to see whether there’s consensus and common ground. That would be the focus. And it may or may not produce a pre-filed bill.”

Malloy said he is planning to meet with Senate staff in the next several days to set the hearing schedule.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.